- Kevin Gemmell, ESPN Staff Writer
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LOS ANGELES -- Above the shoulder pads, Brett Hundley insists he's already a better quarterback. He's put his brain through a rigorous offseason training program. He's studied charts and routes with the keen eye of a navigator and watched more film than a Sundance judge.
But it's all in his head. So we won't truly get to see his surge of brain power at work until the Bruins open the season on Aug. 31 against Nevada at the Rose Bowl.
Below the shoulder pads, however, the evidence of hardcore training is far more empirical. Hundley has packed on about 17 pounds of muscle. He started his redshirt freshman season at 210 pounds and now checks in at a thick, yet lean, 227.
"I've still got my speed," Hundley said. "I told them, as long as I'm gaining weight but can still keep my speed and my power, I'm perfectly fine with that."
Head coach Jim Mora happened to run into Hundley during the Bruins spring break a few weeks back. Hundley had just gotten done with a lifting session. But before that, he was running stairs on his own in Santa Monica. The exchange went something like this.
Mora: "You going to relax this afternoon?"
Hundley: "Nope. Me and some of the guys are going to get ready to throw."
That's the kind of answer that gets coaches all giddy.
"It's spring break and he's getting ready for his third workout of the day," Mora said. "You love that commitment from that player at that position. I've seen a lot of QBs in my time. He has a chance to be truly, truly special at this level and the next."
Hundley, who unlike last year entered the spring as the unquestioned starter, is looking to build on an outstanding redshirt freshman campaign. Last season he threw for 3,745 yards and 29 touchdowns to 11 interceptions while completing 66.6 percent of his throws. He was also the team's second leading rusher with 355 yards and nine touchdowns.
That rushing total might seem a low for an athlete of Hundley's caliber. And it is. He actually gained 702 yards from scrimmage -- but was sacked 52 times for minus-347 yards. That's been a major priority for the Bruins this offseason -- and another reason why Hundley has packed on the weight.
"After 52 sacks, no one is going to feel good," he said.
The expectations for Hundley, and the Bruins, will be higher in 2013. As the two-time defending South Division champs, the road to the Pac-12 title game runs through the Bruins. And Hundley knows it. He knows the noise is out there ... the Heisman darkhorse whispers ... the All-American innuendoes ... but he's a walking mute button. He has cast aside all social media. He sticks with his teammates and a really tight-knit circle of friends.
"He doesn't just look the part, he acts the part," Mora said. "He's a leader. He's confident and composed and everyone just responds to him. He's not perfect yet. He has a lot of work to do. But he's so willing to do the work. It's so fun to watch him."
For Hundley, being a better quarterback isn't just about putting up better numbers or being a more efficient player. It's a way of life. That's how he approached the competition last spring and it's how he's approaching the 2013 season.
"Of course I wanted to be the starter, but that wasn't the main goal," Hundley explained. "The main goal was to be the best that I could be. It wasn't about just winning a job. It was about being the best leader. The best teammate. Winning games. Winning national championships. That's what it's all about and that's what's pushing me right now."
Naturally, another year in offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone's scheme should produce a more efficient quarterback. Despite his success, Hundley still took some lumps as a starter. There were games where he didn't trust his protection -- even though it was there. There were games when his wide receivers zigged when he thought they would zag (see Berkeley, University of California). That should all improve in Year No. 2.
"You can just tell he's really feeling comfortable with the little nuances of each play," Mazzone said. "He has all of the base plays down. But now he understands how he can adjust and make changes. Turn a screw here or there."
Receiver Devin Lucien, who was limited to six games last year but is expected to take on a much bigger role in 2013, had high praise for his friend and quarterback.
"The next step for Brett? He's such an amazing quarterback. Winning the Heisman for him would probably be the next step," Lucien said -- half joking, half serious. "Everything about him, you can just see he's so much more comfortable. Him being better makes all of us better."